As automakers strive to build lighter, faster cars, Lamborghini has opened a new facility to develop a material far stronger and cheaper than traditional carbon fiber and will share its research with its fellow Volkswagen Group brands.
“This is for us a priority,” Lamborghini C.E.O. Stefano Domenicali said at the grand opening of the Advanced Composite Structures Laboratory in Seattle on Monday. “We were the first. We are a leader now in that respect. We want to keep working.”
Domenicali, who joined Lamborghini in February, also said that Lamborghini will share its research, developed in collaboration with Boeing BA +0.62% and the University of Washington, with the other brands owned by its Volkswagen AG parent company, particularly Audi , which acquired Lamborghini in 1998. In addition to Lamborghini, Audi and the Volkswagen brand, the group owns Porscheand Bentley.
“Without the Audi shareholding, Lamborghini wouldn't be here,” Domenicali said. “The research that was done and the development that was done in the years was without them impossible. Therefore we are able of course to deliver what they need.”
The research facility in Seattle will support Lamborghini’s development of a carbon fiber-based material called Forged Composite that has proved itself to be sturdier and easier to use. Instead of the traditional method used to make components with carbon fiber – layering sheets of carbon fiber cloth between layers of resin in a mold – Lamborghini mixes a paste of chopped carbon fiber threads and resin to achieve stronger, more complex components. A component that once required 28 hours and $20,000 can now be ready in five minutes for a fraction of the cost.
Carbon fiber is becoming more important not only to automakers striving to meet federal fuel economy standards but to supercar makers pushing to develop faster and more aerodynamic racecars and exotics. Lamborghini started using carbon fiber 30 years ago with the Countach Evoluzione. It debuted Forged Composite with its 2010 Sesto Elemento limited series supercar.
Most cars are still made with steel, but automakers have been incorporating more lightweight aluminum, which is easier to produce and repair than carbon fiber, into body panels and engine blocks. Most notably, the best-selling vehicle in the U.S., the Ford F-150, transitioned to aluminum last year.
Lamborghini says that Forged Composite is the strongest, most lightweight material being used in the automotive industry. It trims the production time required to form components; it can make complex shapes, like the Aventador’s front bumper, that metals can’t; it’s strong; and it’s cheaper.
If you’re raising an eyebrow at the mention of “cheaper,” you are not alone.
“Reducing cost on a Lamborghini is kind of counterintuitive because Lamborghini can afford to be expensive, but if we don’t spend as much money making the body or chassis of the car, we can spend that money elsewhere in the car,” said Bonnie Wade, a research engineer and manager of the new lab. “So the pushrod suspension system in the Aventador, for instance, was allowed to be introduced because we saved so much on costs of the monocoque (vehicle frame). The directive to reduce costs allows us to put even crazier stuff in the car.”
Lamborghini’s latest model, the 770-horsepower, V12 Centenario, makes heavy use of traditional carbon fiber. Its body is made entirely of exposed carbon fiber, which has cut its weight to 3,351 pounds, allowing it to zip from 0 to 60 in 2.7 seconds and cruise at top speeds of 217 m.p.h. The Centenario has already sold out of the 20 coupes and 20 roadsters it built.